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Bengals' bandwagon?

5-28-02, 10:15 p.m.


Maybe this is Jimmy Carter in New Hampshire. Or Bill Clinton in Iowa. Or George W. in Texas. Maybe this is the sound of a Bengals' bandwagon trying to jump start.

A week after ESPN came to town to shoot a special on Pro Bowl running back Corey Dillon and "The Sporting News" named defensive end Justin Smith to it's 2002 All-Breakout Team, has tabbed the Bengals as one of five teams with a legitimate chance to go from a losing record in '01 to making the playoffs in '02.

"The Bengals just kept coming up in conversations with personnel people and coaches," said Pete Prisco, the web site's NFL senior writer who unblinkingly posted the story Tuesday. "If (Jon) Kitna plays like he did against Pittsburgh, they can make it.

"The defense is terrific, Corey Dillon is one of the great running backs in the game, Justin Smith is obviously on his way, and I love their receivers. Danny Farmer and T.J. Houshmandzadeh are guys you are going to hear about and Chad Johnson can flat out fly. And you know what? Artrell Hawkins wasn't great last year at corner, but he was solid and he's a guy you don't hear much about."

Prisco, who used to see the Bengals twice a year as the Jaguars' beat reporter for the "Florida Times-Union," has made a career out of telling people what they don't want to hear. Particularly Tom Coughlin. Now he's saying what may be the

league's lowest-profile team deserves a second look.

Prisco knows he'll catch heat from his peers for this one when they read sentences like, "The (Bengals') talent base on both sides of the ball is impressive, and at a time when many teams are going through cap-related purges, the Bengals aren't in that position.''

But Prisco laughs at the expected incoming: "It's trendy to knock teams when they're down even when they're doing things the right way. People have to take the time to look and see they've got something going there."

By the way, the four other teams Prisco sees turning it around are the Colts, Titans, Saints and Cowboys.


ROLL CALL:** Wide receiver Darnay Scott didn't show up for Tuesday's voluntary practice as his status remains just as murky as it was in the offseason, when his $3.2 million salary stacked against the play of the young wideouts late in the season became an open question. The Bengals haven't seen Scott since the end of minicamp, and he is apparently still dealing with personal issues. But Takeo Spikes' absence on Tuesday was a surprise since it was two weeks after he ripped players for not showing to the voluntary workouts.

Defensive coordinator Mark Duffner said Spikes called to let him know that he missed his plane from Brazil and would be present at Wednesday's workout.

"He left a voice mail for me at 3:20 a.m. this morning to let me know," Duffner said Tuesday. "You've got to communicate and he let me know what was going on. Communication is real important." . . .

The quarterbacks rolled

out the barrel again as Jon Kitna and Gus Frerotte took turns trying to sift a pass from the 42-44-yard range in simulating their throws on a "go," pattern. Kitna drained one and bounced another off the barrel in about 10 throws.

"Better than the first week," Kitna said. "I'm just trying to work on the perceived weakness. You just don't get a chance to work on it enough."

Frerotte also tried about 10 tosses and came up empty, but his reconstructed shoulder is certainly holding up well.

"Look at practice," Kitna said. "The guy is rolling out to his left and throwing 65-yard bombs on the money. . ."

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